Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 27, 2005

The Balkanization of Iraq

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:18 am
If you look at the map below, it will be obvious that most of Iraq’s oil is in the Kurdish controlled north and the Shiite controlled south:
http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/middle_east_and_asia/iraq_oilfields_1992.jpg
In the May New York Review of Books, Peter W. Galbraith argues for what amounts to the breakup of Iraq:
The best hope for holding Iraq together–and thereby avoiding civil war–­is to let each of its major constituent communities have, to the extent possible, the system each wants. This, too, suggests the only policy that can get American forces out of Iraq.

In the north this means accepting that Kurdistan will continue to govern its own affairs and retain responsibility for its own security. US officials have portrayed a separate Kurdistan defense force as the first step leading to the breakup of Iraq. The Kurds, however, see such a force not as an attribute of a sovereign state but as insurance in case democracy fails in the rest of Iraq. No one in Kurdistan would trust an Iraqi national army (even one in which the Kurds were well represented) since the Iraqi army has always been an agent of repression, and in the 1980s, of genocide. The Kurds also see clearly how ineffective are the new security institutions created by the Americans. In the face of uprisings in the Sunni Triangle and the south, the new Iraqi police and civil defense corps simply vanished…

In the south, Iraq’s Shiites want an Islamic state. They are sufficiently confident of public support that they are pushing for early elections. The United States should let them have their elections, and be prepared to accept an Islamic state—but only in the south. In most of the south, Shiite religious leaders already exercise actual power, having established a degree of security, taken over education, and helped to provide municipal services. In the preparation of Iraq’s interim constitution, Shiite leaders asked for (and obtained) the right to form one or two Shiite regions with powers comparable to those of Kurdistan. They also strongly support the idea that petroleum should be owned by the respective regions, which is hardly surprising since Iraq’s largest oil reserves are in the south.
full: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17103
Although Galbraith has liberal credentials (son of John Kenneth), he is no slouch when it comes to the art of breaking up countries to benefit US imperialist aims, as is evidenced by his post as US Ambassador to Croatia during the 1990s.
To show how tuned in he is to the real needs of imperialism, as opposed to neoconservative fantasies, he gets a ringing endorsement from NY Times editorialist David Brook, who does not mince words:
Galbraith says he is frustrated with all the American critics who argue that the constitution divides the country. The country is already divided, he says, and drawing up a constitution that would artificially bind three divergent societies together would create only friction, violence and civil war. “It’s not a problem if a country breaks up, only if it breaks up violently,” Galbraith says. “Iraq wasn’t created by God. It was created by Winston Churchill.”
One of my other calls yesterday went to another smart Iraq analyst, Reuel Marc Gerecht, formerly of the C.I.A. and now at the American Enterprise Institute. Gerecht’s conclusions are often miles apart from Galbraith’s, but they have one trait in common. Both of them begin their analysis by taking a hard look at the reality of Iraqi society. Neither tries to imagine what sort of constitution might be pretty to our eyes or might be good in some abstract sense. They try to envision which system comports with reality.
Gerecht is also upbeat about this constitution. It’s crazy, he says, to think that you could have an Iraqi constitution in which clerical authorities are not assigned a significant role. Voters supported clerical parties because they are, right now, the natural leaders of society and serve important social functions.
full: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/25/opinion/25brooks.html
The one thing that is not mentioned in Galbraith or Brooks’s articles is oil. It is obvious that the Sunnis are opposed to the new constitution because it would leave them impoverished, if the logic of Balkanization goes full cycle. It is interesting that they are supported by Sadr’s guerrilla army whose main social base is in the Baghdad slums rather than the Basra bazaar.
BAGHDAD, Aug 26 (Reuters) – A hundred thousand Iraqis across the country marched on Friday in support of a maverick Shi’ite cleric opposed to a draft constitution that U.S.-backed government leaders say will deliver a brighter future.
The protest could reinforce the opposition of Sunni Arabs who dominate the insurgency and are bitterly against the draft.
Supporters of young Shi’ite firebrand Moqtada al-Sadr, who has staged two uprisings against U.S. troops, also protested against poor services during their marches, stepping up the pressure on the government.
A hundred thousand Sadr supporters marched in eight cities, including 30,000 people who gathered for a sermon delivered on his behalf in a Baghdad slum district.
They hardly noticed a huge government poster which read “One Nation, One People, One Constitution”, instead seeking guidance from Sadr who inspires fierce devotion in his followers.
A new more complicated situation might be facing the Iraqi resistance. If imperialism and its local allies plunge ahead with the break-up of Iraq, it will have the effect of creating a more *class* based resistance. However, by tearing the country apart geographically and allowing the relatively oil-free middle to fend for itself, it will be able to concentrate its forces in the north and south and construct barriers of the sort that you find in the West Bank today. American GI’s and quisling troops will man checkpoints at the entrances to both regions. While the Sunni-led resistance might have made imperialist rule over the middle of the country, more far-sighted elements of the American ruling class might have decided to write off this portion just as the Israelis wrote off Gaza.

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